“A Life Performance”
Reviewer: Isaac Lim
Performance: 22 October 2016
It is New Year’s Eve, and all at the senior care centre are gathered at the courtyard for a celebration. The seniors are each to present something for the rest. An elderly Mdm Tan, played by Goh Guat Kian, stands up from her seat, not without difficulty, and moves to centre stage. She announces that she will perform “life”. She tries to abandon her walking aid, and the young ones rush to assist her but are all brushed aside.
This is a “life performance”.
Nine Years Theatre gathers eight veteran actors to put up Stan Lai’s 1994 play, Red Sky. This is the company’s first show outside of a black box, and also their first work that isn’t translated from the Western canon.
Director Nelson Chia removes all the signposts in the original script that referred to Taiwan and the China Communist Party, resulting in a work which is not rooted in a location. This makes it relevant to an even larger audience.
The eight seniors have so much story to tell. Mr and Mrs Lee (Johnny Ng and Liow Shi Suen) are the only couple staying together at the home. The old Mr Lee, an ex-political activist, keeps sharing about the autobiography he hopes to write. Old Max (Henry Lau) loves to sing but never does so in front of the others. However, the large ensemble also pose the problem that each story never doesn’t get told completely.
What the audience sees is the everyday lives of the seniors at the centre, from spring to winter. They spend a fair amount of time out in the courtyard, under the sun. The red sky that the title refers to is perhaps the autumn sky, painted by falling leaves, in reference to the characters’ old age.
One would expect a play about seniors in an old folks’ home to be rather sad and depressing. However, this staging of Red Sky isn’t. Director Chia has managed to keep emotions in check, balancing between being touching and tear-jerking. Even when we do see a character nearing the end of his life, the audience can’t help but smile as he has led a fulfilling, blessed life.
In contrast, the play reminds us that seniors are very much like the younger kids, leading almost carefree lives. They love to banter, a lot. Their competitive edge is shown in several scenes. In one, Mdm Teng (Lim Poey Huang) and Xiao Ding (Elena Chia) tries to make each other jealous with their fantasies of being the sweetheart to a popular movie star. In another, Mr Lee and Er Ma (Tay Kong Hui) challenge each other to a sing-off in multiple languages.
It is known that Nine Years Theatre has a strong focus on actors training, and it is very apparent in this performance. All the physical actions of the veteran actors are very precise, making the characters real and believable. The supporting cast, consisting of the company’s Ensemble Project members, spends most of their stage time handling scene transitions. Their coordination and movements are performances in themselves—clean and purposeful.
What is life? Life is, maybe, about shining on the stage when it is your turn, and making full use of it. Or maybe, it is about being full of dreams, and not being constrained by any factors, especially not age. Perhaps, it is about letting the red hot sun be like a blanket, living each day filled with warmth.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
RED SKY by Nine Years Theatre
20 – 23 October 2016
KC Arts Centre
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Isaac Lim is a third-year Theatre Studies major at the National University of Singapore who enjoys bustling in all-things-arty, gets crafty, and indulges in being a foodie